[Federal Register: September 28, 2001 (Volume 66, Number 189)]
[Proposed Rules]               
[Page 49608-49611]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 90-day Finding and 
Commencement of Status Review for a Petition To List the Lower Kootenai 
River Burbot as Threatened or Endangered

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of petition finding and initiation of status review.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, announce a 90-day 
finding on a petition to list lower Kootenai River burbot (Lota lota) 
as an endangered or threatened species pursuant to the Endangered 
Species Act of 1973, as amended. We find that the petition presents 
substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that 
listing the lower Kootenai River burbot may be warranted. We are 
initiating a status review to determine if listing this population is 

DATES: The finding announced in this document was made on September 14, 
2001. To be considered in the 12-month finding for this petition, 
information and comments should be submitted to us by November 27, 

ADDRESSES: Information, comments, or questions concerning this petition 
should be submitted to the Supervisor, Upper Columbia River Basin Field 
Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 11103 E. Montgomery Drive, 
Spokane, Washington 99206. The petition finding, supporting data, and 
comments are available for public inspection, by appointment, during 
normal business hours at the above address.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Scott Deeds at the above address or 
telephone (509) 893-8007.



    Section 4(b)(3)(A) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (Act), as 
amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), requires that we make a finding on 
whether a petition to list, delist, or reclassify a species, or to 
revise a critical habitat designation, presents substantial scientific 
or commercial information to demonstrate that the petitioned action may 
be warranted. To the maximum extent practicable, we make this finding 
within 90 days of receipt of the petition and publish the finding 
promptly in the Federal Register. If we find that substantial 
information was presented, we are required to promptly commence a 
review of the status of the species involved. After completing the 
status review, we will issue an additional finding (the 12-month 
finding) determining whether listing is in fact warranted.
    On February 7, 2000, we received a petition, dated February 2, 
2000, from American Wildlands and the Idaho Conservation League 
requesting the emergency listing of Kootenai River burbot (Lota lota) 
in Idaho as endangered and the designation of critical habitat 
concurrent with the listing. Accompanying the petition was supporting 
information relating to taxonomy, ecology, biology, threats, and past 
and present distribution.
    The petitioners requested listing for the Kootenai River burbot 
that occur only in Idaho; however, we believe that a consideration of 
an ecologically based delineation of the population is needed.

[[Page 49609]]

Our analysis addressed a population of burbot that is potentially 
isolated in the lower Kootenai River, but has the ability to freely 
migrate between Kootenai Falls in Montana and Kootenay Lake in British 
Columbia. In all further references to burbot in this potentially 
isolated portion of the Kootenai basin in Montana, Idaho, and British 
Columbia, we identify this fish as the lower Kootenai River burbot.
    Burbot, also referred to as eelpout or ling, were first described 
in Europe by Linnaeus in 1758 (American Fisheries Society 1991). They 
are a cold-water, bottom-dwelling species and the only freshwater 
member of the otherwise marine cod family (Gadidae). Burbot are 
extremely elongate or eel-like with marbled body coloration from dark 
olive to brown on the back contrasted with brown or black; the sides 
are lighter than the back; and the belly is yellowish white (Simpson 
and Wallace 1982). Burbot have a distinguishing single slender barbel 
on the chin. In the lower Kootenai River, burbot can weigh up to 4.5 
kilograms (10 pounds) and live up to 15 years (Vaughn Paragamian, Idaho 
Department of Fish and Game, pers. comm. 2000; Burbot Recovery Strategy 
[BRS], in draft).
    Burbot distribution is circumpolar. In North America, the historic 
range includes a majority of mainland Canada and several northern 
States from coast to coast (Scott and Crossman 1973; Simpson and 
Wallace 1982). Burbot that occur in the Kootenai River basin exhibit 
three life history strategies in several potentially isolated groups. 
The burbot that constitute the lower Kootenai River population spend a 
portion of their life in the South Arm of Kootenay Lake, and then 
migrate up the Kootenai River during the winter months to spawn in the 
mainstem river or tributary streams in British Columbia or Idaho (an 
adfluvial life form, i.e., one that migrates from lake to river and 
tributary streams for spawning). Kootenai Falls in Montana, present for 
approximately 10,000 years, physically isolates this population of 
burbot from the population that occurs above the falls (Paragamian et 
al. 1999). Burbot above the falls are believed to spend their entire 
lives in the river system (a fluvial life form, i.e., one that spends 
its entire life in the river or migrates from river to tributary 
streams for spawning). A burbot population also exists in Lake 
Koocanusa, a reservoir formed when Libby Dam was constructed near 
Libby, Montana, in the early 1970s. In the North Arm of Kootenay Lake 
is a remnant population of burbot that is believed to spend its entire 
life cycle within the lake ecosystem (lacustrine life form). A 
lacustrine population was also known to spawn in the West Arm of 
Kootenay Lake, but is now believed to be extirpated. Mixing is not 
believed to currently occur among any of these potentially isolated 
populations (Paragamian, pers. comm. 2000).
    Genetic studies support the belief that the adfluvial burbot that 
occur in Kootenay Lake and Kootenai River in Idaho and British Columbia 
constitute the same population, and that they are genetically 
dissimilar and separate from the burbot above Kootenai Falls 
(Paragamian et al. 1999). Tagging and telemetry studies performed on 
burbot from Kootenay Lake and the Kootenai River in Idaho and British 
Columbia also support the conclusion that these fish are likely of the 
same population (Paragamian 1995a). In addition, none of the more than 
400 burbot that have been tagged above Kootenai Falls have ever been 
documented moving downstream into Idaho or British Columbia (Paragamian 
et al. 1999).
    Under natural conditions, burbot in the Kootenai River basin spawn 
under ice during the winter months in water temperatures below 4 deg. C 
(39 deg. F) (Simpson and Wallace 1982). The burbot of the lower 
Kootenai River that spawn in Idaho generally begin migrating up the 
Kootenai River in November and travel up to 120 kilometers (75 miles) 
to traditional spawning sites (Paragamian, in draft). Spawning 
commences in early February and lasts 2 to 3 weeks, as both gamete 
maturation and arrival to spawning sites are highly synchronous (Arndt 
and Hutchison, in draft; Eveson, in draft).
    Most information suggests that river spawning burbot prefer low 
velocity areas in main channels or in side channels behind deposition 
bars, with the preferred substrate consisting of fine gravel, sand, or 
silt (Fabricius 1954 in McPhail and Paragamian, in draft; McPail and 
Paragamian, in draft). Spawning is also known to occur in small 
tributary streams and is generally believed to take place at night 
(Simpson and Wallace 1982; McPhail and Paragamian, in draft).
    Female burbot are larger than males and, depending on their size, 
may produce between 50,000 and 1,500,000 eggs (Simpson and Wallace 
1982). Male burbot typically reach sexual maturity in 3 to 4 years, 
with females maturing in 4 to 5 years (BRS, in draft). During spawning, 
burbot typically collect in a large mass referred to as a spawning 
ball, with one or more females in the center surrounded by many males 
(Simpson and Wallace 1982; McPhail and Paragamian, in draft). There is 
no site preparation during spawning, and eggs are broadcast into the 
water column well above the substrate. The eggs are semi-buoyant and 
eventually settle into cracks in the substrate. Newly hatched burbot 
drift passively in open water until they develop the ability to swim 
(McPhail and Paragamian, in draft). Young burbot initially select 
shoreline areas among rocks and debris for feeding and habitat 
    Burbot prefer cold water and, during summer months, move to the 
hypolimnion (lower zone of a thermally stratified lake) areas of lakes 
or deep water pools of large rivers (Simpson and Wallace 1982). Feeding 
is mostly done at night, with adult burbot feeding almost exclusively 
on fish. Young burbot feed on a variety of aquatic organisms, such as 
insects, amphipods, snails, and small fish (Simpson and Wallace 1982). 
Burbot are most active in the winter when they move great distances to 
spawn, but are rather sedentary during the non-spawning seasons.
    In accordance with our distinct population segment (DPS) policy (61 
FR 4721), three elements must be considered in decisions regarding the 
status of a possible DPS as endangered or threatened under the Act: (1) 
discreteness of the population segment in relation to the remainder of 
the taxon to which it belongs; (2) significance of the population 
segment in relation to the remainder of the taxon; and (3) conservation 
status of the population segment in relation to the Act's standards for 
listing. Criteria for all three elements must be satisfied to list a 
    Discreteness refers to the separation of a population segment from 
other members of the taxon based on either (1) physical, physiological, 
ecological, or behavioral factors; or (2) international boundaries that 
result in significant differences in control of exploitation, habitat 
management, conservation status, or regulatory mechanisms. Lower 
Kootenai River burbot may be discrete in that (1) they are physically 
isolated from other burbot in the Kootenai River by a natural barrier 
(Kootenai Falls) and unsuitable habitats between the two populations 
below the falls, and are believed to be behaviorally isolated from 
those that occur in the North Arm of Kootenai Lake; (2) they are 
genetically distinct from burbot above Kootenai Falls (Paragamian et 
al. 1999); and (3) they may be ecologically isolated in that they have 
a different life history (adfluvial) than those above the falls 
(fluvial) and in the lake (lacustrine).
    Significance refers to the biological and ecological importance or

[[Page 49610]]

contribution of a discrete population to the species throughout its 
range. Examples of significance criteria used in our DPS analysis for 
burbot in the lower Kootenai River basin include (1) persistence of the 
discrete population segment in a unique or unusual ecological setting; 
(2) evidence that loss of the discrete segment would result in a 
significant gap in the range of the taxon; (3) evidence that the 
discrete population segment represents the only surviving natural 
occurrence of the taxon that may be more abundant elsewhere as an 
introduced population outside of its historic range; or (4) evidence 
that the discrete segment differs markedly from other populations in 
its genetic characteristics (61 FR 4721). Lower Kootenai River burbot 
may be significant in that (1) the loss of this potentially isolated 
population may cause a significant gap in its range in the U.S., as 
well as eliminate their only occurrence in Idaho; and (2) they differ 
genetically from burbot that occur upstream of Kootenai Falls in 
Montana (Paragamian et al. 1999).
    The lower Kootenai River once supported a significant number of 
burbot and provided an important winter fishery to the region. Although 
declines in burbot numbers in Idaho and British Columbia had been 
documented as early as 1959, they were still considered relatively 
stable through the 1960s. Despite fishery regulations implemented in 
the 1970s, the burbot fisheries in the Idaho and British Columbia 
portion of the basin collapsed after the construction of Libby Dam in 
1972. Only 145 adult burbot have been captured in the Kootenai River in 
Idaho and British Columbia since 1993 (Paragamian et al. 1999). 
Spawning was known to occur in many tributary streams in Idaho and 
likely occurred in the river (BRS, in draft). However, recent studies 
reveal scant evidence of burbot reproduction in Idaho, as no larval 
fish and only one juvenile fish have been captured since 1993 
(Paragamian and Whitman 1999). Currently, the only tributary known to 
support spawning burbot is the Goat River, which is just north of the 
Idaho border in British Columbia (Paragamian 1995a; Paragamian, in 
    Prior to the collapse of the lower Kootenai River burbot population 
in the 1970s, anglers reported catching more than 40 burbot a night 
during the winter using setlines. It was estimated that the annual 
harvest for the sport and commercial fishery was in the tens of 
thousands of kilograms or several thousand fish annually (BRS, in 
draft; Paragamian, pers. comm. 2000). However, the annual harvest of 
burbot between 1979 and 1983 was estimated at about 250 fish. In 
Kootenay Lake, the harvest of burbot in 1969 and 1970 was estimated to 
be 25,000 and 20,000 fish, respectively (BRS, in draft). These 
estimates represent harvest levels throughout Kootenay Lake and include 
the adfluvial and lacustrine lifeforms. Concurrent with the decline of 
burbot in Idaho was the decline in British Columbia and, despite 
numerous harvest regulations implemented in both Idaho and British 
Columbia, burbot continued to decline and both fisheries were closed in 
the 1990s.
    The earliest record of burbot sampling by the Idaho Department of 
Fish and Game (IDFG), from the winter of 1957-58, showed that 199 
burbot were collected with only a few days worth of effort (Partridge 
1983; Paragamian, pers. comm. 2000). The nets were reported to be full 
of both young and adult fish. From 1979 to 1983, IDFG personnel 
captured 108 burbot. They concluded that the abundance of burbot was 
substantially less than in the 1950s, as the effort in 1979 (8 burbot 
captured) was similar to that in 1957-58 (199 burbot captured). In 
1993, IDFG personnel began a follow-up study to determine the 
abundance, distribution, reproductive success, movement, and possible 
limiting factors on the population in the lower Kootenai River. 
Extensive sampling effort over the last 7 years has resulted in the 
capture of only 145 adult burbot at a rate of approximately 1 burbot 
per 30 net days of sampling (Paragamian pers. comm. 2000)
    Declines in lower Kootenai River burbot appear to be most strongly 
associated with habitat modification resulting from the construction 
and operation of Libby Dam (Paragamian 1993; Paragamian et al. 1999). 
Temperature and flow changes that alter spawning patterns and poor fry 
survival due to a reduction in food productivity in the river are 
believed to be the primary threats to burbot (Paragamian 1993; 
Paragamian and Whitman 1998; Paragamian et al. 1999).
    Libby Dam was built for power production and flood-water control in 
the early 1970s. Consequently, the seasonal characteristics of water 
flow and velocity of the Kootenai River have changed markedly. During 
the winter, flows are now 300 percent higher than natural levels 
(Paragamian, in draft). Paragamian (in draft) reported that as a result 
of power production peaking within any given day, discharge from Libby 
Dam can range from 113 to 765 cubic meters per second, depending on 
power demand. Prior to the construction of Libby Dam, the natural 
conditions of the lower Kootenai River in Idaho and British Columbia 
during winter months were relatively stable, with flows ranging from 
roughly 125 to 200 cubic meters per second. With wintertime flows being 
more erratic and greatly increased as a result of power peaking and 
flood control, the spawning migration of burbot is disrupted. This 
disruption is believed to reduce spawning fitness, stamina, and 
spawning synchrony, as well as gamete maturation (Paragamian, in 
    Many studies (e.g., Paragamian 1995a; Paragamian, in draft) since 
1993 have determined that burbot movement up the Kootenai River during 
the pre-spawning migration is significantly greater during low flow 
test periods (113 cubic meters per second), which were designed to 
replicate pre-dam conditions, than when Libby Dam is being operated for 
normal water management and power production (383 to 510 cubic meters 
per second). The studies showed that once discharge was increased to 
510 cubic meters per second after the test periods, burbot drifted back 
to where they were previously or even further downstream (Paragamian 
1995a; Paragamian, in draft).
    Laboratory studies have shown that even the largest burbot cannot 
maintain their position for more than 10 minutes in current velocities 
greater than 24 centimeters per second (Jones et al. 1974). Paragamian 
(1995b) determined that a discharge velocity of 24 centimeters per 
second in the lower Kootenai River near Copeland, Idaho, occurs when 
the discharge is approximately 255 cubic meters per second, indicating 
that when flows are greater than this, burbot may have difficulty 
maintaining their position or moving upstream.
    In addition to flow change, winter water temperature has increased 
by 2 to 3 deg.C (4 to 5  deg.F) since the construction of Libby Dam. 
This temperature increase is believed to influence the activity level 
and location of burbot during the pre-spawn migration. Prior to the 
construction of Libby Dam, many portions of the lower Kootenai River 
would freeze allowing burbot to spawn under ice in water temperatures 
between 1 and 3  deg.C (34 and 37  deg.F) (Becker 1983 in Paragamian 
1995a). Lower Kootenai River temperatures are now 4 to 5  deg.C (39 to 
41  deg.F) during the winter months and many sections no longer freeze 
over (Paragamian 1995a). It has also documented that once burbot did 
ascend the Kootenai River to spawning areas in Idaho, it was after the 
spawning season, and water temperatures were warmer (7  deg.C (45 

[[Page 49611]]

than burbot prefer for spawning. In addition, behavior indicative of 
spawning was not documented. Paragamian (1995b) concluded that the 
prolonged travel time for ripe burbot and the disparity between 
prevailing water temperatures and preferred spawning temperatures may 
preclude spawning in Idaho. Since 1994, the examination of five female 
and ten male burbot (all mature) caught shortly after the spawning 
season in the spring has indicated all were unspawned (Paragamian, 
pers. comm. 2000).
    The decline in the productivity of the Kootenai River and in 
Kootenay Lake following the construction of Libby Dam may also be 
linked to the decline of burbot. Sediment nutrients settle behind Libby 
Dam in Lake Koocanusa and reduce the nutrient loading to the river. 
Analyses of macrozooplankton in the lower Kootenai River indicated that 
there is a scarcity of important foods such as Daphnia, Diaphanosoma, 
and Cyclops (Paragamian 1995b).
    Considering the available information, the lower Kootenai River 
burbot may be discrete and significant. In addition, the extensive 
information regarding the population's conservation status, suggests 
that the lower Kootenai River burbot may satisfy the criteria for 
listing as a DPS.
    We have reviewed the petition and other available information, 
including published and unpublished agency reports, and information 
from our files. On the basis of this review, we find that there is 
sufficient information to indicate that listing the lower Kootenai 
River burbot as a threatened or endangered species may be warranted. 
Declines in lower Kootenai River burbot have been most strongly 
associated with the construction and operation of Libby Dam since the 
early 1970s. Discharges at the dam for power production and flood 
control have caused winter flows to increase by 300 percent. Increased 
water temperatures and decreased food productivity may also be factors 
associated with the dramatic decline of burbot. While regulatory 
mechanisms are in place to protect burbot from harvest in the Kootenai 
River in Idaho and British Columbia, and Kootenay Lake, no conservation 
efforts currently appear to be recovering the lower Kootenai River 
burbot population.
    In the information provided, the petitioners state that the lower 
Kootenai River burbot are at significant risk and near demographic 
extinction, and requested that we protect them through emergency 
listing. We may issue an emergency rule when an immediate threat poses 
a significant risk to the well-being of a species. Although the lower 
Kootenai River burbot appear to be in danger of extirpation, we do not 
believe that the threats are so great that extirpation is imminent. 
Upon receiving the petition, we reviewed the available information to 
determine if the existing and foreseeable threats posed an emergency. 
Consequently, we determined that an emergency listing was not warranted 
at this time, and we sent a letter to the petitioners on April 7, 2000, 
documenting this decision. However, if at any time we determine that 
emergency listing of lower Kootenai River burbot is warranted, we would 
seek to initiate an emergency listing. The petitioners also requested 
that critical habitat be designated for this species. The designation 
of critical habitat is not an action that may be petitioned under the 
Act. However, if the 12-month finding determines that listing the lower 
Kootenai River burbot is warranted, then the designation of critical 
habitat would be addressed in the subsequent proposed rule.

Public Information Solicited

    When we make a finding that substantial information exists to 
indicate that listing a species may be warranted, we are required to 
promptly commence a review of the status of the species. To ensure that 
the status review is complete and based on the best available 
scientific and commercial information, we are soliciting information on 
burbot throughout the entire Kootenai River basin. We request any 
additional information, comments, and suggestions from the public, 
other concerned governmental agencies, the scientific community, 
industry, or any other interested parties concerning the status of 
lower Kootenai River burbot. We are seeking information regarding 
historic and current distribution, habitat use and habitat conditions, 
biology and ecology, ongoing conservation measures for the population 
and its habitat, and threats to the population and its habitat. In 
addition, we request information relating to the designation of 
critical habitat for burbot in the lower Kootenai River.
    Of particular interest is information regarding whether the lower 
Kootenai River burbot satisfies the criteria for listing as a DPS. This 
includes information on the discreteness and significance of the 
population segment. Discreteness is the separation of a population 
segment from other members of the taxon based on either (1) physical, 
physiological, ecological, or behavioral factors; or (2) international 
boundaries that result in significant differences in control of 
exploitation, habitat management, conservation status, or regulatory 
mechanisms. The significance of the population segment refers to the 
biological and ecological importance or contribution of a discrete 
population to the species throughout its range. For additional 
information concerning the listing of DPSs under the Act, please refer 
to our DPS policy (February 7, 1996; 61 FR 4721).
    If you wish to comment, you may submit your comments and materials 
concerning this finding to the Supervisor, Upper Columbia River Basin 
Field Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 11103 E. Montgomery 
Drive, Spokane, Washington, 99206. Our practice is to make comments, 
including names and home addresses of respondents, available for public 
review during regular business hours. Respondents may request that we 
withhold their home address, which we will honor to the extent 
allowable by law. There also may be circumstances in which we would 
withhold a respondent's identity, as allowable by law. If you wish us 
to withhold your name or address, you must state this request 
prominently at the beginning of your comment. However, we will not 
consider anonymous comments. To the extent consistent with applicable 
law, we will make all submissions from organizations or businesses, and 
from individuals identifying themselves as representatives or officials 
of organizations or businesses, available for public inspection in 
their entirety. Comments and materials received will be available for 
public inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours at the 
above address.

References Cited

    A complete list of all references cited herein is available on 
request from the Upper Columbia River Basin Field Office (see ADDRESSES 


    The primary author of this document is Scott Deeds, U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, 11103 E. Montgomery Drive, Spokane, Washington, 


    The authority for this action is the Endangered Species Act (16 
U.S.C. 1531 et seq.).

    Dated: September 14, 2001.
David B. Allen,
Acting Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 01-23913 Filed 9-27-01; 8:45 am]